Narada Michael Walden - drums, vocals; Skyler Jett - vocals; Nikita Germaine - vocals; Vernon "Ice" Black - guitar; Joel Smith - bass; Frank Martin - keyboards; Wayne Wallace - trombone; Robbie Kwock - trumpet
The spiritually-directed, highly-motivated, award-winning singer-songwriter, drummer and producer Narada Michael Walden is not the kind of guy to sit around resting on his many laurels or twiddling his drumsticks; rather, he's the type who lives to give back. Bringing his vision along with his unique brand of jazz and rock n' soul fusion inside the gates of San Quentin to perform for inmates is just part of a day's work for this Bay Area-based jack of all trades…and he brought along his band the Brotherhood for the jams.
Walden first made his mark on the drum scene with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, and followed that auspicious start with a stint with Jeff Beck. Walden had a hand in shaping the synthesized sound on Beck's watershed Wired album and the pair's association has spanned the decades; as recently as 2010, Narada was on the road with Beck again. In addition to his list of rock n' roll and solo credentials, Narada has made a heavy imprint on R&B as a songsmith and producer, most notably as hitmaker for Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Diana Ross. The stage is where he blends all of those influences together.
Reprising some of his chartbusting work in San Quentin for the day, he brings out guest vocalists Skyler Jett and Nikita Germaine; they also join him for a version of "Delightful," a solo R&B hit for him in the mid '70s. The electro-fusion jam "Led Boots" was picked up from Beck's Wired album. "Blue Angel," one of Walden's productions for Al Jarreau, is performed here in an uptown/uptempo style, while the showstoppers, Whitney's "How Will I Know," and Aretha's "Freeway of Love" continue the set's crescendo. But not to be underestimated is Narada's own massive dance hit, "Divine Emotions" (although it's unfortunately incomplete here): the song spun in clubland in the late '80s, when he was known as the singularly named, divinely dubbed artist, Narada.
Whether he's improvising riffs or sweating out Top 40 R&B solid gold, Walden's a pro. He spares no energy at this event for the assembled convicts and he gets the drift that what you give is what you get. When Narada plays he aims to reach out and touch somebody's hand; on this day at Quentin, his humanity connects.